In 1984, at an autocross, I took a friend’s non-Si CRX for the first time, says legendary Honda racer Peter Cunningham. It was excellent. It possessed excellent balance, handling, and power-to-weight ratio. So, on June 28, 1986, I signed a four-year lease on a CRX Si. Additionally, I used it to tow my other race vehicle when I wasn’t using it for racing.
The first publication of this tale was in Road & Track Volume 12.
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The majority of brand-new cars in the early 1980s featured carburetors. The Mondial and 308 were the only Ferraris the factory exported to America in 1980; both were powered by a 3.0-liter, 205-horsepower carbureted V-8. Through 1983, the Toyota Corolla had a solid axle and was rear-wheel drive. The 1981 Ford Mustang’s sole V-8 was a 4.2-liter unit with 115 horsepower, and Chevrolet continued to sell the antiquated Chevette up until 1987. Die Deutschen? VW’s GTI didn’t arrive in this country until 1984, and a mid-size Mercedes-Benz (the now-loved W123) could only be purchased with a diesel engine from 1982 to 1985. The two-seat CRX Si had the appearance of a half-hard-boiled egg, never achieved extraordinary performance levels, and didn’t sell in vast numbers, yet it was the forerunner of all that was to be good.
This 1985 specimen is a true museum piece. In Santa Barbara, California, American Honda handed it to us so that we might reflect on the foresight of what is now a time capsule. It’s perhaps the best preserved first-year CRX Si out there. It has a scary stock and has just over 10,000 miles on the odometer. Aluminum wheels measuring 13 inches and inexpensive P175/70R-13 tires. No broken suspension parts or silly Maxwell House exhaust tip. a 37-year-old survivor who has navigated difficult mods.
The fuel-injection technology was what made the difference between the Si and the lower-end CRX models, despite some redecorating (such as a trick sunroof that slid back onto the roof).
For the Si, Honda created its own own tuned-runner intake manifold and electronic fuel injection system. The CX500 and CX650 Turbo two-cylinder motorcycles from Honda were the first to include Honda’s Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI), whose accurate fuel metering improved the turbo installation for driving manners. With the aid of advanced piezoelectric sensors and some computer logic, it increased the 1.5-liter SOHC 12-valve four-cylinder engine’s output from 74 horsepower with a carburetor to 91 horsepower. These little figures add up to an increase in productivity of 23%. Injection was cutting-edge technology for a vehicle as inexpensive as the CRX Si ($7999 to start, or roughly $22,000 in today’s money).
However, “little” is relative; that cost was about $1000 more than the standard CRX with a carburetor.
The word “little” is also an absolute. As you get closer, the CRX appears absurdly little. Three of the five wheelbases that Ford offers for the 2022 F-150 are longer than the whole length of the CRX. The 2022 Civic Si sedan with summer tires weights 1121 pounds more than the 2018 CRX Si, which weighs 1840 pounds. It would take four Aaron Donalds and a pound of jerky to fit the min through the hatch.
The tricky aspect of the CRX’s design is that the two passengers are able to occupy practically the entire 86.6 inches of its wheelbase. There is ample room to spread out, and the base of the windscreen nearly touches the trailing edge of the front wheels. That is made feasible in part by a low front suspension created by a strut design that uses torsion bars that reach below the floor pan. The narrow door panels and a dash design that slopes down to the passengers both contribute to the sensation of space.
Comfortable space isn’t always spacious. The seats were designed to fit human bodies, the steering wheel was sized for human reach and grip, and the pedals were put in wells that could accommodate human feet, which is how Honda managed to make it all work.
Honda had the advantage of creating the CRX before dashboard VistaVision screens and numerous other requirements, such as airbag legislation. Honda was able to be straightforward in those simpler days.
Although the engine has a pleasant personality, its maximum torque, which is only 93 lb-ft at 4500 rpm, is not very high. It must be bashed in order to start moving. Additionally, it means that the outdated CRX Si is engineered to maintain powerband efficiency by operating at 3000 rpm or higher at typical freeway speeds. Compared to this vintage puddle, modern turbocharged small-car engines create mountains of torque. While cruising, they can unwind and achieve high EPA mileage ratings.
Consider the weight differential, and you’ll see how much the EPA ratings differ. The old CRX Si is rated at 26 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway according to modern testing standards. The enormous new Civic Si sedan, though, raises those figures to 27 in the city and 37 on the highway. Additionally, the current Civic Si sprints from 0 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and completes the quarter-mile in 15.1 seconds at 94 mph. The previous CRX Si required 9.1 seconds to get to 60 mph and 16.4 seconds to complete a quarter-mile run at 81 mph. The two share excellent five- and six-speed manual transmissions that shift flawlessly. It’s important to continue the Honda history of smooth manual transmissions forever.
The windup windows of the 1985 model are not a problem, however the manual steering can be a bother while parking. The steering’s communication is still astounding, even after 37 years. Exotic tires are unnecessary as long as real fun is what matters. And no, fun is not always a byproduct of speed.
The CRX Si remains a wise choice. Honda needs to disassemble the current Civic into one right away. It would be amazing to see a 2023 CRX Si with the present 200-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter engine and a 90-inch wheelbase and 2700-pound curb weight.
The CRX Si altered everything. The sport-compact mania took off, everything got an injection, and Peter Cunningham went on to win 14 championships across several series. His first race was in a CRX Si in Pro Ice Endurance in 1987.
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